Tuesday, March 23, 2010

dead again

I'm all about zombies lately. And that is not just because I'm reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or because the folks in Wienertown shuffle down the street like the walking dead. I’ve come to realize that I quite like zombies. Or: I quite like zombie movies. Or, at least, I like one zombie movie: Dawn of the Dead.

The best horror movie about consumerism ever. Plus, it’s got a really great exploding head scene.

So I finally got around to seeing the 2004 remake of Dawn. Until now, I’ve avoided it, along with the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Pink Panther. But then I succumbed to this zombie fever of mine, and I found out that the remake stars Sarah Polley, and Ving Rhames. They have talent, right?

Anyway, I watched the damn thing.

It’s got its moments, like the bit where the heroine stumbles out into her front yard to discover that, overnight, the planet has descended into mayhem. Or the spot where the redneck mall security cop takes a break from wasting manky dreadfuls to bob his head along with the mall Muzak version of “All Lost in Love” and he says, “I like this song.”

But that’s all it’s got: moments. The suspense and humor of the original are AWOL. It's tense but undramatic. It made me nervous, but it didn't disturb me. Who cares about these characters in a mall? Not me.

Dawn of the Dead 2004 includes a scene where a hillbilly grandma, gun in hand, finishes a cigarette before she goes into a dark room. Extreme Close-Up of the cherry on the tip of the cigarette, sound of the tobacco and paper crinkling with fire. She drops the stogey and steps on it--another Extreme Close-Up. Why are we seeing these filmic flourishes? How do they advance the story or tell us something we don't already know? They don't. These shots are just close-ups, and they only cue us to the fact that something may or may not be about to happen.

It amazes me that young filmakers--in this case, one Zack Snyder, who went on to "direct" 300--can take a story about braineaters in a shopping mall and fashion a movie that is long on style and really short on well, guts.

And it amazes , and delights me even more that this thought leads me back to the greatness of George Romero's 1976 film. Dawn of the Dead is ridiculous, a comic book. I mean the zombies are blue, for gawd's sake. Check these shots of both Dawns for comparison--which look more like real zombies?!

And yet, it's a complete and disturbing artistic statement about life, death, the world, hell, mortality, humanity, disease, and brains. For me, that's genius: a cheesy movie that's really about something, that is funny and horrible and deep and dumb, all at the same time.

For me, that's cinema.

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